THOMAS REES BROCK
HOW THE BROCK ROAD GOT ITS NAME
By Marjorie Clark
Thomas Rees Brock was born in Kingston, Jamaica in August 18, 1811, the fourth of eleven children of William Wallen Brock, a doctor of medicine and owner of land in Jamaica, and Ann Rees Evans, a niece of the Rector of Kingston. The Brock family was landed English gentry near Colchester, Essex County, England and Thomas’ father eventually sold his Jamaica property and returned to Clifton, Bristol, England.
Thomas emigrated to Canada and on March 28, 1832, he purchased lot 3 west, in the 3 rd concession of Eramosa Township, Wellington County, five miles from Guelph. On April 2, 1833, Thomas married Eleanor Thompson (Apr. 7, 1816-Feb. 1, 1876) at St. George’s Anglican Church in Guelph. Thomas was 21 and Eleanor was 17. After a few years of the hard life on a farm, Thomas was convinced that, as he possessed some amount of education, he could lead a better life in Guelph. He sold the Eramosa farm on June 25, 1840.
Initially, he embarked on store-keeping but a notice in the Guelph Advocate in November 1847 announced that he had closed that business. In the town, he held several appointments with the administration: Auditor, Secretary of the School Board, Surrogate Court Clerk and Superintendent of the Government Roads for Wellington District. By March 2, 1848, he was in charge of roads, as a request for tenders for construction of a portion of the Guelph to Arthur Road appeared under his name. In November 1849, T. R. Brock advertised his services as “conveyancer, accountant and general agent” at his office in 1 Market Square in Guelph.
Dundas was the port of entry to this section of Ontario and it became an industrial hub with roads radiating from it in various directions, The first settlers in Guelph travelled from Dundas via the already constructed Galt-Waterloo Road to Galt and from there, by a primitive track to Guelph.
The more direct route from Dundas to Guelph, the Aboukir Trail, through West Flamborough and Puslinch, was only a track that followed the original First Nations trail. It was suitable only for walking, as it was too rough for wagons and most settlers made the journey into Puslinch by foot. Until 1827, Puslinch was designated as a Clergy Reserve, land set aside for the churches, not open for development; no road could be constructed through it. With the founding of Guelph in 1827, there arose a growing clamour for a road following that route from Dundas. John Galt pressed the government to put a road through the reserve, resulting in the David Gibson survey of the east side of Puslinch Township, concessions 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11. A fraction of the Clergy Reserves was opened for settlement under the Sales and Improvement Act in 1827 and immigrants began to flood into Puslinch.
About 1838, an organized movement arose to agitate for a proper road to replace the trail. A public meeting was called in Guelph in 1839 and a survey for the road was requisitioned. By 1846, a private company had been formed by a group of Guelph businessmen in an attempt to construct a road. However, it proved impossible for the Guelph and Dundas Road Company to raise sufficient funds to move forward.
Eventually, the governments of the districts involved were persuaded to approve the project. At a meeting of the Guelph and Dundas Road Company with committees from the Gore District Council and the Wellington District Council held at Freel’s Hotel in Freelton on Feb. 28, 1848, it was resolved that application be made to the provincial government to establish the company as administrator of the improvement of the road. Thomas Rees Brock was appointed secretary of the company. On June 7, 1848, a call for tenders was published under T. R. Brock’s signature. The bids were to be submitted to either Mr. Brock or to the engineers, Mr. R. W. Kerr of Hamilton and Mr. F. Kerr of Guelph. The bridges over the Speed at Guelph and over Spencer Creek at Bullock’s Corners in West Flamborough were contracted separately on July 25, 1848.
About this time, the road began to be called the Brock Road. In time, the area surrounding the Brock Road in the north end of the township became known as the Brock Road Section of Puslinch and the school in School Section #2, Puslinch, was known as Brock Road School. This area of Puslinch was annexed by Guelph in 1966. Now known as South Guelph, with the exception of the Brock Road Garage, all trace of its former existence has been wiped out. The Brock Road School building still stands as the Wellington Centre for Continuing Education.
The contract for the road was awarded to William Cook of Hamilton, formerly a contractor on the Welland Canal. The sod-turning ceremony was held on July 20, 1848, when the officials of the company and an assembly of about 200 Guelph citizens met at Thorp’s Hotel in Guelph. They formed a procession about one fifth of a mile long, with several banners fluttering in the breeze. They proceeded down the road for four or five miles, where they were met by the president of the company, the Warden of the Gore District, the contractor, the Gore District surveyor and the member of provincial parliament. At Hamilton’s Hotel, situated at what is now the Arkell Road corner, the President of the Guelph and Dundas Road Company, G. S. Tiffany gave a short address and wielded both a pick and a shovel. Upon return to the town, more speeches to the assembly in front of the hotel were in progress, when heavy rain cut short the proceedings. Then, seventy gentlemen sat down to supper in Thorp’s Hotel, with entertainment and copious toasts, including one to Mr. Brock. The celebration ended after midnight.
On Aug. 8, 1850, the company placed a notice in the Guelph Advertiser for “Hands Wanted, at various places on the Brock Road, about 200 men”. By Nov. 12, 1850, the work was nearly completed, although it ran over its £20,000 budget. A reporter for the Guelph Herald wrote that “we were quite astonished in driving to Hamilton the other day by this route to perceive the immense improvements now made. This line, which two years since, was in some places merely a series of almost impracticable mud-holes, now presents an admirably macadamized or gravelled carriageway the entire distance between Guelph and Dundas.”
T. R. Brock attended St. George’s Anglican Church, in which he held a number of positions and where there is now a plaque in his honour. He first erected a home on Woolwich St. In 1845, he had a stone house, which he called Park Place, built on the York Road for the family. Thomas and Eleanor had ten children, of which nine survived to adulthood.
Two of his sons were extremely successful in life. William Rees Brock (1837-1917) was an enterprising businessman, newspaperman, Member of Parliament and philanthropist. Jeffrey Hall Brock (1850-1915) became a partner with his brother, William in W. R. Brock and Brother, a wholesale dry goods business and was instrumental in the formation, in 1891, of The Great West Life Assurance Company, of which he was general manager.
Thomas Rees Brock was still employed as Secretary of Roads in April 1850. On Thursday, Oct. 3 rd , he walked to the woods behind his home with two or three of his children, intending to “amuse them by shooting squirrels”, the newspaper report of the incident recounts. He lost his balance on a log and shot himself in the chest. He was carried home and one or the other of the two Guelph doctors, Dr. Orton and Dr. Clarke, stayed with him constantly. He died at his home a week later, early Thursday morning, Oct 10, 1850. He was 39.
The Brock Road became Provincial Highway 6, when it was paved in 1925. When the Hanlon Expressway was opened in November 1973, the portion of the Hanlon north of the 401 was called Highway 6 and the part of old Highway 6 from Morriston to Guelph became Wellington County Road 46. The northern section, now in Guelph, is called Gordon St. Still, a part of the Old Highway 6 in Aberfoyle has reverted to the name “Brock Road”. Another section in Aberfoyle, now a residential street, is called Old Brock Road. A section of the original Brock Road from Freelton to Greensville to the south has remained as the Brock Road. All are suitable memorials to its dynamic builder.
Previously published in two parts in The Puslinch Pioneer, 2012.
Re-Printed with permission from Marjorie Clark.
Re-Printed with permission from Marjorie Clark.